The Boeing 747 once carried the space shuttle and is credited with making air travel more accessible to the general public. Now, after more than five decades, the last brand-new 747 has been built.
Among those paying tribute to the aircraft was actor John Travolta, who attended a Boeing tribute to the 747 last week in Everett, Washington.
“As a pilot, I know how great this plane is to fly,” Travolta said. “There is nothing like seeing a 747 take flight, to remind you that there’s also magic here.”
CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave visited Boeing’s Everett plant as the plane was in final assembly, just days before it rolled off the line, made its first test flight and was bathed in about 120 gallons of paint.
Sherri Mui built 747s for the last 15 years, her father started working on the same line 43 years ago.
“Every time you finish a job, you know that it’s going to be the last time you do it. And it just kind of tugs at your heartstrings,” Mui said. “My favorite thing about the 747 would just be that it’s so iconic that you see it in the sky, you see it at the airport, and you know exactly what that is. And it brings a lot of pride knowing that, hey, yes, I helped build that.”
“It’s not just another airplane,” Mui told Van Cleave.
The 747 was the world’s first jumbo jet. Twice as big as any other airliner when it first flew back in 1969. Pan-Am welcomed the first passengers on board a year later.
With its spiral staircase, first-class lounge and iconic hump, it was an instant hit.
“This airplane marks the point in history, the first time that any person on planet Earth could get on an airplane and fly,” Boeing historian Michael Lombardi told Van Cleave.
“It democratized air travel,” Van Cleave said.
“Because of its size, its range, its economy. Now, flight was affordable.”
Over more than 118 million flight hours and counting, the 747’s four engines have carried millions of passengers, six U.S. presidents and even the space shuttle across the country and around the world.
After 1,574 of the 747s were built, this marks the end of the line for the Queen of the Skies at Boeing. But for the thousands of people in the Everett plant who work on the airplane, it really marks the beginning of a new chapter. They’re all going onto new jobs on other lines, building new planes that will fly for decades to come.
While those newer more fuel-efficient planes are bringing about the end of this queen’s reign, especially as a passenger plane, the final 747, a freighter, will likely be delivering goods for years.